Fifa president strikes a discordant note at World Cup draw

Blatter interrupts a minute’s silence with calls to ‘celebrate humanity, celebrate Nelson Mandela and most of all celebrate football. Applaud please!’

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and hosts Fernanda Lima and Rodrigo Hilbert join in the applause for Nelson Mandela at yesterday’s World Cup draw. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and hosts Fernanda Lima and Rodrigo Hilbert join in the applause for Nelson Mandela at yesterday’s World Cup draw. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Sat, Dec 7, 2013, 07:25

Usually when a minute’s silence is abandoned at football events it is because of disrespectful fans. But yesterday at the World Cup finals draw in Brazil it was Fifa president Sepp Blatter who interrupted one he himself called in memory of Nelson Mandela after less than ten seconds.

“Let’s celebrate humanity, celebrate Nelson Mandela and most of all celebrate football. Applaud please!,” he urged the 1,300 dignitaries at the event who had been mutedly paying their respects. His call was followed by a few seconds of polite applause before Fifa’s draw show quickly moved on.

Global television schedules notwithstanding, it was a discordant note struck by Sepp Blatter at a moment of worldwide mourning. But then, he is the man accused by the Mandela family of putting the former South African president “under extreme pressure” to attend the final of the 2010 World Cup, despite being in mourning for the death of his great-granddaughter.

Yesterday’s reminder of Mr Blatter’s insensitivity follows news that football’s governing body is being investigated by a Brazilian public prosecutor for possible racism in its choice of presenters for yesterday’s draw.

The show was expertly handled by Fernanda Lima and her husband Rodrigo Hilbert, a very white couple of Brazilian models from a country where half the population is either black or of African descent. The prosecutor says he is looking into claims that Fifa hired them after vetoing two Afro-Brazilian actors, a charge Fifa denies.

Perhaps aware that such problems are a manifestation of the fact his organisation has become a target in Brazil for the millions unhappy with its high-handedness and the exorbitant spending on preparations for next year’s tournament, Mr Blatter made a none-to-subtle appeal for no repeat of the protests that overshadowed last year’s Confederations Cup in the country.

Discomfort
“Please come together, join everybody because it is for you,” he said, directly appealing to Brazilians. Standing beside Mr Blatter on the stage was Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, who since taking over ultimate responsibility for delivering the World Cup with her election in 2010 has never been fully able to mask her discomfort in the presence of the male characters who run the world’s favourite game.

She confined herself to promising “The Cup of Cups. A Cup nobody will forget” pointing out that for the first time the tournament would include all previous champions and teams from all five continents.

The draw show – a televised event that cost millions of euro, all to divide 32 teams in eight groups – represented much that many Brazilians find objectionable about Fifa’s presence in their country.

It was staged in a luxury resort that more closely resembles a country club in the US than the Brazil found outside its heavily-policed entrance. Inside, the bland corporate luxury in which Fifa delegates and Brazilian officials met was a world away from the exuberant and at times dangerous chaos that is the city of Salvador, 90 kilometres down the coast.

The show did contain some flashes of the real Brazil. There was a thunderous closing presentation by Salvador’s world-famous percussion group Olodum. But largely it was a kitschy, musak version of the country interspersed with the canned bonhomie that is the lingua franca of all Fifa events.